It was a theme you could feel in everyday life and society is fully entitled to pass their judgement on the topic. An ‘incapable’ chap could bring a bad reputation to the entire village he lived in. Private matters are everyone’s business and virility is the benchmark of manliness.
Talking about sex is hardly taboo in Indonesia. I myself got many sex tips from becak drivers, food stall guys, even school teachers. Unfortunately, the discussion on sexuality mostly revolves around one thing: the almighty male prowess.
So yes, sexuality is discussed openly, but very far from sexuality as a basic and equal human right, let alone more advanced topics like sexual orientation. It is mostly a very caveman, male prowess oriented talk. He who could not get it up and please a woman suffers the worst indignity.
The word ‘impotence’ was a very familiar word for teens, it was a boogie man scarier than cancer, HIV or all other ghouls. Violence towards women, or all other kinds of violence, is somewhat excusable when you knew the man was frustrated by his “incapacity”. People might say, “Ohhh no wonder he hits his wife, he has problems with his bird (the slang for penis in Indonesian).”
In this film, I see Indonesia desperately trying to overcome its fear of impotence, its fear of failure to perform.
We follow Ajo Kawir’s journey, who becomes impotent the day he was forced to watch a mentally ill woman being raped by two policemen. To mask his impotence, he takes the path of violence. He challenges everyone to a fight and makes sure no one can doubt his manliness.
The culture of machismo only knows men who cry without tears. When Ajo Jawir feels betrayed by his wife (who at the end of the day DID need him to get it up), he becomes a cowardly fighter. He has no problem ending an old sickly man’s life who was lying there defenseless while calling the poor man, “Bitch!”.
Machismo and patriarchal values are still ever present in today’s Indonesia, supposedly a more open-minded and democratic society than the one in Ajo Kawir’s youth.
In this film, I would like to encourage people around me to chill on the macho man culture and take it easy with all the desperate efforts to hold on the mythical trophy of manliness. Should we waste time obsessing about the bird that can’t get up, while more and more of the same violence still keeps occurring all around us?